A look behind the scenes at Almenwelt Lofer
In Lofer, the preparation of the slopes is a matter for the boss, here the mayor personally takes care of the best slope conditions.
I’m an early bird. And we all know that it’s the early bird who catches the worm. In this case, the reward for getting up early is the fi nest narrow corduroy! This should not evoke images of Grandpa’s trousers, rather the flawlessly fine carpet of prepared pistes the piste maintenance team has spent the night conjuring up on the snowy slopes of Almenwelt Lofer.
I make my way up to the summit of the Schwarzeck, 1,550 metres up, on the very first gondola and breathe deep the clear, fresh air. Sunshine bathes a breathtaking panorama before me with views stretching all the way to Bavaria, the city of Salzburg and the Tyrol region. And the endless, pristine slopes await me below. With a “clack, clack” sound I step into my binding, push off from the summit plateau with my ski poles and with a sense of pure enjoyment I zig zag on the edges of my skis through the gripping snow. Taking my first break from the action, I can’t help but wonder who creates these dreamlike conditions night after night and decide to pay a visit to the piste maintenance team and Mother Hulda’s diligent helpers.
The night shift
With a final round, the ski patrol has ensured that all the skiers have already skiied down to the valley. Whilst the last rays of sunshine glisten over the horizon up here on the mountain, the lights slowly come on in the valley below. After a wonderful day of skiing you can sit down to a delicious dinner, enjoy a soothing massage or simply hole up with a good book next to the fire. But this is when the Almenwelt Lofer piste maintenance team is just settling into their workday. It’s 5 pm and the piste equipment is being started up in the mountain railway garages, their motors buzzing. Their orange rotating lights are highly visible and send the signal: We are on duty to create the perfect piste.
And now it’s time for me too to climb into the cab to join my piste caterpillar driver. Once I have managed to climb over the enormous chain drive into the small cockpit and close the door behind me, warmth and something approaching cosiness falls over me in an instant. This tiny cab is our office for the next few hours, with the cold, snowy wind conveniently remaining outside whilst the inside is really rather comfortable. “Grias di, gemma’s an?” asks my pilot in the local dialect, by which he means to enquire whether I am ready to start the night shift.
Surprised, I realise that I actually know my driver; I see Lofer’s mayor, Norbert Meindl, smiling at me from the driver’s seat of the piste machine.
In response to my surprise he says, “As the operations manager of Almenwelt Lofer, I also do some piste duty myself from time to time. And I’m happy to do it, because up here on the mountain I get a fantastic chance to unwind from my often busy days at the town hall.”
Steering with a joystick
With small movements on the control lever, which looks like a joystick on a computer console, Norbert Meindl moves the machine that weighs tonnes with extreme precision across the snow, making a 180-degree turn on the spot, lowering the front blade and off we go on the first piste. Track for track we erase the evidence of a fun day of skiing: a carving turn here, a small bump there. There’s nothing left behind us but an immaculate fine corduroy! Our powerful lights illuminate the area in front of us as the mayor says, “Although you work alone up here, you’re always accompanied by your coleagues on the radio. Even so, you have to like this silence. During heavy snowfall or a storm, it’s like everything around you has disappeared and you focus solely on the next track.” After some time, Norbert Meindl stops the machine and says, “We’ll just wait here for a bit because my snowmaking colleagues are adjusting the snow machine at the moment to accommodate the most recent wind measurements.
That’s how they make sure the machines don’t snow themselves under and ice over. Up here on these steep slopes we have to attach ourselves to the cable with the winch machine. He gladly explains to me why the massive piste machine is attached to the cable: “Do you see the amount of snow that is accumulating here at the foot of the slope? This is driven down here by skiers during the day. It’s our job to redistribute this across the steep slope, and we have to do this in a way that is gentle on the layers below. For safety’s sake, we now activate the warning signs that deter people from entering the piste because the tensioned steel cable is very dangerous and no one is allowed on the slopes when it’s in place.”
We start the machine and up we go over the steep slope pulled by the cable. This severe incline is definitely not for the faint of heart! But the piste caterpillar really is a high-tech piece of machinery. It is powered by a 450 horsepower diesel engine and its dead weight of around eight tonnes compacts the subsurface when we drive over it. The roller at the rear of the piste machine smooths the snow and provides that famous fine corduroy.